Ko Méri, or, A Cycle of Cathay: A Story of New Zealand Life
Chapter XIX. Amy Brooke Makes Mischief
Chapter XIX. Amy Brooke Makes Mischief.
On Saturday afternoon Lenore happened to be alone in the house, though she had been invited with the rest of the family to a garden party given by one of their friends at Remuera. But as the day had been warm, the Saturday's baking had tired Lenore, and after lunch she announced her intention of remaining at home.
After the departure of the others, who had tried to persuade her to alter her decision, she was left to her own devices for the whole afternoon.
She took up Jean Paul's “Titan,” which she had not yet finished, and ensconced herself in the bay window of the drawing-room, where it was now cool and pleasant. She had proved the truth of Mr. Morgan's warning—that Richter's works are slow reading on account of the involved sentences, brilliant with illustrations, similes, metaphors—but she had so admired the life of the man—the greatness of his soul under the most chilling blasts of poverty—that, to her, his teachings were doubly impressive.
Lenore had scarcely read three pages when she heard a step on the gravelled path outside, and, on looking up, saw that it was Amy Brooke, all ready dressed for tennis.
The Brookes were by no means considered as page 241 good as the Daytons and the Morgans. Many people who held Dr. and Mrs. Brooke in high esteem were forced to exclude them from their visiting list on account of the Miss Brookes' reputation for fastness. The hostess of the garden party to which the Daytons had been invited held them in special aversion for their loud style.
Lenore, however, received her visitor cordially enough, although she would have much preferred to have been permitted to enjoy the afternoon in peace, not that her visitor, from her appearance, would stay long.
“I thought you were invited to the garden party?” began Amy; “but as I was passing the gate I saw you at the window, and I thought I would run in and see you.”
“I was invited, but the day is so warm I preferred to stay at home. Are you not going to play tennis this afternoon, Amy?”
“Yes, I promised to call for Mabel Ellett.”
And then there was a silence.
“Did you feel tired after your climb up Rangitoto? I noticed you were more burnt than any of us,” said Lenore, by way of conversation.
“Yes, I could scarcely move the next day; and as for my face, it was a sight. But your cousin was so kind in helping me over the rough places that it was not so bad as it might have been.”
Lenore did not see what difference it made, but Amy's absurdities were an old story to her now.
“By-the-bye, when is Captain Deering going home again?”
“I am not quite sure—about the middle of next month. He is going up to the Hot Lakes with Mr. Morgan on Tuesday,” answered Lenore, briefly.
She thought, from long acquaintance with her visitor's methods, that she knew now the object of Amy's call. That she had one was certain.
“I should think he has enjoyed his visit to New page 242 Zealand very much, and to all appearance he has,” went on Amy, with marked emphasis.
“Certainly. My cousin has had a pleasant visit in every way, he says so himself. Everyone has been so kind and hospitable—more than ordinary, I think.”
“I didn't mean in that sense at all,” answered Amy, “though that is all true; his interest in Auckland is quite of a different kind, at least, so it is said.”
What did this dreadful girl mean? Never had her visitor seemed so small and unworthy. Was there any foundation for all this mystery and show of importance.
“What do you mean? I don't understand. Please be good enough to speak plainly; I dislike this vague manner of hinting at a subject,” said Lenore.
It was sweet to Amy Brooke to have her old school-fellow at a disadvantage, for she had a lively remembrance of certain differences in which she had come off second best.
“I am surprised that none of you have noticed it, it is as patent as the sun; I wonder someone has not told you before.”
“‘It’–what is it?” cried Lenore, impatiently. “What can other people know of Captain Deering of which all of us are ignorant?”
“I do not say it is true, but everybody is talking of it,” went on Amy.
“May I ask who constitutes ‘everybody’?” asked Lenore, icily. “I should like to know who the people are that have made themselves so officious with my cousin's concerns.”
“Now don't get angry, Lenore; everyone says that Captain Deering is in love with Mary Balmain. Indeed, from the first time he saw her he has been her shadow.”
“Yes; and I must say he shows curious taste, page 243 when we consider what she is,” cried Amy, and all the indignation of her hearer broke out at this petty spirit of jealousy.
“And if my cousin, Captain Deering, does admire Miss Balmain, what of it? He is not the first by any means, and I fail to see any particular cause for remark in it. He is at liberty to admire whom he pleases.”
“Of course, but you know quite well that after all is said and done Mary is a half-caste, and her Maori mother is still living somewhere up in the north, and people will talk,” went on Amy, still harping on the only thing that could be said in depreciation of Mr. Morgan's adopted niece.
Lenore winced at the reference.
“And what if her mother is a Maori? Her father came of a better family than most people in Auckland, and Mary is quite as good, if not better, than any of us. You must excuse me, but I do not think my cousin would be pleased to know that I discussed him in connection with Miss Balmain,” cried Lenore.
“As you will; it is not everyone that would choose as Captain Deering has done.”
With this retort Amy took her departure, satisfied with having left a stab behind that would rankle, and for no other reason than her own envy at the half-caste's success where she had failed.
For her own part, Lenore, as she thought it over, could find no objection to the union at all. But even with her generous, warm heart there was that little word which Cleopatra declared allays “the good precedence.” She remembered the fatal desire of freedom which animates the Maori race, and which has ruined the lives of so many. But Mary was one of the exceptions, argued she. At dinner that evening the details of the garden party were discussed for Lenore's benefit.
“You missed something to-day with your laziness,” said Bertie.page 244
“Indeed, what was it?” she answered, absently.
“Mr. Everard was there, and so was the Dean; you know how exceedingly cordial the two are, and how well they agree on every point. It was as good as a play to see the Dean's expression.”
“I don't see anything particularly funny about that. You are easily amused, Bertie,” said Lenore.
“How can you tell? you did not see it,” retorted Bertie. “Mr. Everard happened to be talking to Mrs. Morgan—a particular friend of the Dean's, you know—and when he—the Dean, I mean—came up, and saw a heterodox minister in his vicinity, his face lengthened considerably.”
“How you do exaggerate, Bertie!” cried Ellie. “The Dean and Mr. Everard are gentlemen, and too courteous to show their differences in the way you describe. Besides, I have no doubt they hold one another in high esteem, though their opinions do not agree. Your imagination is running away with your sense.”
“The other day Lenore told me I had no imagination, and to-day you say I have too much; so what is a fellow to think?” cried Bertie, in an injured tone. “But what I saw, I saw; and you need not tell me about courtesy and gentlemen when such a vital question as orthodox or no is at stake.”
“But I thought Mr. Everard was not going at all,” said Mrs. Dayton. “I understood Mrs. Smith to say that he had refused her invitation.”
“So did I,” remarked Bertie, easily. “Oh! by the way, he asked after you, Lenore—asked if you were quite well, as if you are not always well. Anybody that can climb Rangitoto on a scorching summer's day is not in danger of going into consumption yet awhile.”
“I presume there is great danger of your going page 245 that way,” laughed she, “considering you did not make the attempt.”
“Was there anybody here this afternoon?” asked Mrs. Dayton.
“Yes; but only Amy Brooke; and she did not stay very long,” answered Lenore, a little shortly.
“Strange idea for her to come on Saturday afternoon,” mused Ellie. “Besides, she knew we were all invited to Mrs. Smith's.”
“Ten to one she came with some wonderful piece of news—of course, not about herself, you may depend upon that,” cried Bertie.
This was so near the mark that Lenore flushed slightly.
“Maybe she talked of you, sir. Your conscience seems to prick you,” laughed his sister.
On Monday afternoon the two girls and Mrs. Dayton were sitting in the drawing-room, busily engaged on some necessary sewing. Lenore, thinking she would not get a better opportunity, determined to make them acquainted with what nearly everybody seemed to know but themselves.
During a pause in the conversation, she began–
“You did not ask me why Amy Brooke honoured me with her presence on Saturday afternoon.”
“No; I did not think it worth while. What did she want?” asked Ellie.
“You could not guess if you tried all day; at least, I presume you are as blind as I was.”
“I can never guess; it is waste of time in my opinion; tell me without. I don't think any of Amy's gossip is worth the trouble of guessing.”
“She told me that everyone is talking of Leslie and Mary—that he is most attentive to her, and I don't know what else,” burst out Lenore, rather incoherently, and leaning back in her chair.
“What do you mean by repeating such a piece of page 246 wilful, malicious gossip?” Lenore thought the terms rather strong and not applicable. “The thing is too absurd! It is a pity people have not something better to do to occupy their time,” commented Mrs. Dayton, sharply.
It was just as her daughter had thought—the match would find no favour with her.
“I would not place any confidence in a rumour of that kind,” said Ellie, with a superior smile that aggravated her sister; “people are apt to take so many things for granted.”
“We shall see—time does wonders,” cried Lenore. “There is not the slightest doubt, mamma, of its truth. You go over all that has passed since Leslie came, and you will see that plenty of material has been given for talk. I thought it all over after Amy had gone on Saturday; and, if Mary will consent, there is no question of Cousin Leslie's willingness to marry her.”
Somehow, in spite of herself, Mrs. Dayton was impressed by her daughter's decided tone.
“I should think any girl would be glad to have Captain Deering for a husband,” the mother said, with dignity; “he is worthy of any woman's love; men of his standing are not so numerous.” Mrs. Dayton, with all her sound, practical sense, possessed the idea that her children and nephew and nieces were just about as perfect as they could be; but, happily, it never came to the front, except on such occasions as the present.
“I believe you are right, Lenore. What is to be done?” cried Ellie.
“Nothing, of course; what can we do, I should like to know? I suppose the Morgans are just as blind as owls, though they are no worse nor no better than ourselves.”
In this she was mistaken—Mr. and Mrs. Morgan were by no means ignorant of what was going on before their eyes.page 247
“Mamma, you will speak to him, will you not?” said Ellie. “If he will listen to anybody, it will be to you; and it is your duty to show him how he is throwing himself away. Why, it is ridiculous!”
“It is nothing of the kind, Ellie, and you know it. Leslie has known from the very first day who Mary is, for I told him the second day he stayed in this house. Dear me, Mary is not forcing him to do anything against his will; if you want the truth, Leslie has most assiduously sought her on every possible pretext,” cried Lenore, in defence of her absent friend.
“Well, but something must be done,” said Mrs. Dayton, who had been turning over the pros and cons in her own mind. “What does he mean by throwing himself away on a half-caste, no matter how good, when he could do much better in England, or even out here?”
Mary Balmain was a great favourite with Mrs. Dayton, except for the fact that she was almost entirely ignorant of house-keeping—a great shortcoming in her eyes—but it was one thing to admire Mr. Morgan's niece, and quite another for said niece to occupy the position of her nephew's wife; the prejudice against the Maori race was too strong.
“How unfortunate it all is!” cried Ellie, who seemed to take it more to heart than did her mother. “How foolish men are!” at which Lenore felt inclined to laugh out, only she knew it would give mortal offence. To her risible faculties, there was something of the ridiculous in the whole affair—especially in thus discussing the question when all their talk amounted to as much as the twittering of the sparrows out in the trees.
“Now, Ellie,” she said, leaning her elbows on the table, and looking up into her sister's face with a serious expression, but with a mocking glance in the blue eyes, “did you ever yet see the young man—or young woman—outside of a novel, who was turned page 248 from the evil of his ways by warnings that he ought to do so? I never have. You may tell him—or her—of the most direful results that will follow the marriage, but you waste your energies. After the honeymoon is time enough to find out all these things. It seems to be all in the economy of nature, so that stupid people may rise to the advantage of those who think themselves much better.”
“Pray, Lenore, if you are going to philosophize in that fashion, say nothing,” said Ellie, irritably. “I never saw a girl like you—you would see something funny on the road if you were being led to the stake to be burned. I really believe you consider this quite a good match for Cousin Leslie.”
“He might do a thousand times worse, and I shall be as well off as you next week, when it is all settled without your leave,” laughed Lenore. “It is as well to speak fair about it to-day as in the near future.”
“After all we have no certainty that such is the case, you must remember. However, I can only warn him, and if he does not take my advice, I have done my duty,” said Mrs. Dayton, more calmly.
“Here is Leslie, now,” cried Lenore, whose eyes had been fixed on the garden. “I shall go upstairs and paint a little, for I know I should look uncommonly like a conspirator, after talking so much about the poor fellow; and that would be awkward.”
Ellie leisurely sauntered out to the verandah, meeting her cousin at the door.
“Good afternoon, Ellie,” he cried, lightly. “How are you?”
“Quite well,” she answered, coldly; for with all her gentleness she was very tenacious of what she considered the family dignity.
He noticed the tone, but ignored it, thinking something had annoyed her, or that she was not well.page 249
“Is Lenore at home this afternoon?” he asked. “Miss Balmain sent me to ask her to come over to tea.”
“Yes; she is at home, but will you not go in and see mamma—she is in the drawing-room.”
Mrs. Dayton had never felt herself in such a difficult position as on this particular sunny afternoon in February; the very frankness, and happy, easy manner of her nephew making it difficult for her to introduce the subject so interesting to them both. But she persevered in what she considered her duty, as people usually do when that duty happens to fall in with their own inclination, or when it constitutes a means to an end.
“How are you enjoying yourself at Mr. Morgan's, Leslie?” she said, by way of bringing the subject round to her own point of view.
“Immensely! never enjoyed myself better in my life before,” he cried, in his strong, vibrating voice, that sent a chill to Mrs. Dayton's heart. This was not a very promising beginning.
“How is Mary?” she asked, feeling that she was bungling most dreadfully.
“She is quite well. You know you saw her yesterday, Aunt Marion,” he said, in wonder.
“Yes; so I did. I think she grows handsomer every day—for a half-caste she is really beautiful. You know, Leslie, there is a prejudice against them here.”
He frowned at the allusion.
“She is beautiful without the qualification, Aunt Marion, and her manner is superb. Mr. Morgan has educated her finely.”
“Yes; but you will not find many men of her position in life willing to marry her, rich and cultivated as she is,” said Mrs. Dayton, angry with herself for thus speaking of her old friend's niece—adopted though she might be.
“Why?” he asked, stoutly, and standing up in front of her.page 250
“Because—surely, Leslie, you most have seen it yourself—it is considered a great misfortune for a girl to have Maori blood in her veins. It is the same everywhere.”
“Has anyone been telling you stories about me, Aunt Marion?” cried the young man, quickly; “because if they have they might have saved themselves the trouble. I have made a mistake in delaying so long.”
“I did not hear anything until to-day, but I believe it has been well circulated through the town,” she said, bitterly. “But surely, Leslie, there is no truth in it? You would not make such a mad marriage? Gossips are so ready to take hold of the smallest circumstance.”
He got up, and walked up and down the room, pausing at last in front of her.
“Now, Aunt Marion, I know you mean well, and all that you say I take in good part, as I would from my mother, if she were alive, but really there is nothing ‘mad’ about this report, or my intentions. I love Mary Balmain, and will marry her if she will have me, and think myself honoured by her acceptance.”
Mrs. Dayton groaned in spirit at the utter foolishness of the present generation of young men.
“But think of your family—your sisters. I acknowledge that Mary is all that you say, and more; but, then, she is a half-caste—a stubborn fact that there is no getting over.”
“If I do not mind that, no one else should—I am willing to take it with Miss Balmain. No one thinks of raising any objection to creoles, so why should half-castes be under a ban?” he said.
“Because a creole and a half-caste are not at all the same thing, so that they cannot be compared. But I see there is no use arguing, and will say no more on the subject. But I tell you candidly, that I wish you had never paid us this visit,” said page 251 Mrs. Dayton, giving him an amused look. They both laughed at the remark.
“So say not I,” he cried, and bending down he kissed her hand. He knew that Mrs. Dayton was one of those sensible people who never kick against the pricks, but, when a thing is inevitable, submit with the best grace possible. “Where is Lenore? She is a friend of mine,” smiling at Mrs. Dayton knowingly. “I came to take her over to Mrs. Morgan's; they'll think I have gone to sleep on the way.”
“She is upstairs; I'll go and tell her,” and Captain Deering is left alone.
“I shall have to risk my fate sooner than I intended,” he thought. “It won't do to permit things to go on like this. I have only to-morrow, as Wednesday we start for the Lakes.”
That evening all the Dayton family, with the exception of the father and mother, went to a Sunday School entertainment, and, as it happened, there were no visitors.
“What is the matter, Marion? You seem out of sorts,” said Mr. Dayton, noticing his wife's restless manner and preoccupied air, and laying down the newspaper as he spoke.
“I feel quite well; but I heard something to-day that has not pleased me very much. Leslie is going to marry Mary Balmain, of all people in the world—that is, if she will have him. And of course she will,” went on Mrs. Dayton, with the air of a martyr; but, to her surprise and no little vexation, he took the announcement quite coolly—quite as a matter of course.
“What of it? I have noticed something of the kind for some time,” he said, calmly, and looking at her with amused eyes.
For once his wife thought Mr. Dayton deficient in common sense, or, at least, with a poor idea of the fitness of things.page 252
“I am really surprised that you should look upon it in such a favourable light considering who Mary is!” she cried, a little impatiently.
“Is she not rich, pretty, clever enough in her way? And if you want family—I don't go in for that myself—she is quite the equal of Leslie. So where's the odds?” cried he, heartily.
Mrs. Dayton moved impatiently. It irritated her that, where she expected to find sympathy, she found the opposite. Ellie was her only ally.
“I am not denying all Mary's gifts; but you know as well as everyone else the road that so many half-castes take.”
“Well, well, Marion, you will not be the sufferer; these young people will take care of themselves,” and he resigned himself again to his paper, while Mrs. Dayton, in great annoyance, left the room, only returning when her vexation had spent itself.